When head coach John Tharp got back to the bus after a 74 – 63 win over the University of Illinois-Springfield, his phone kept buzzing with congratulatory texts for becoming the winningest coach in Hillsdale College basketball history.
With the victory, Tharp earned his 173rd victory as head coach of the Chargers, surpassing the previous record held by Ron Halstead.
“It was a little sentimental for me to be honest, not about the wins or the records, but you start reflecting on the people that you have been blessed to be around for the last 10-plus years,” he said.
And after two quality wins over Southern Indiana University, a legendary Division II basketball program, and the University of Illinois-Springfield, an athletically gifted team, the Chargers had something to celebrate. But Tharp spent the bus ride thinking.
“Rarely do you have a chance to reflect like that during the year,” Tharp said. “It was a long bus trip home.”
The Chargers have raced out to a 3 – 0 record after an exhibition loss to the Michigan State University. After that loss, the team practiced for a whole week. Senior guard Stedman Lowry, after a tough game against the Spartans, said he was ready to get back playing.
“It sucks having a week after playing a bad game and then having to let it stew inside before you get a chance to play again, but luckily we were able to turn around and get two big wins,” he said.
The team participated in the G-MAC/GLVC Crossover Classic at Malone University in Canton, Ohio.
Lowry came out shooting against the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles. He led all scorers in the first official game of his senior season with 22 points on 7 of 15 from the field.
The next night Ryan Badowski, the other senior guard, took his turn as the leading scorer. He scored 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting, including five first half three-pointers.
“It is always nice to see the ball go in,” he said. “They kept feeding it to me. I just took my shots. I was really relaxed and shot well. We all have those nights, and that was just one of my nights.”
Badowski earned the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week award for his play. He averaged 19.5 points per game over the weekend, shooting 71 percent from the floor and 70 percent from behind the arc.
“It’s a good way to start off the year. We are ready to make a statement in the G-MAC,” he said. “It is nice to be honored, but at the same time this weekend was more about the team.”
During each of the first two games, four of the starters, Lowry, Badowski, junior guard Nate Neveau, and junior forward Nick Czarnowski all finished with double-digits in scoring.
Little scoring came from the bench, however, in the first two games of the season, save for a five-point burst by redshirt freshman guard Davis Larson against Southern Indiana.
“We definitely have guys off the bench who can score and will score but they just didn’t happen to be scoring that weekend,” Lowry said.
But when Urbana University came to play at Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena on Tuesday night for the first home game of the season, a 30-point halftime lead let Tharp empty his bench, allowing the second unit to score 52 of the team’s 87 points.
Sophomore guard Mike Travlos scored 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting with three three-pointers. Junior guard Harrison Niego added 8 points and sophomore forward Noah Kalthoff had 7 points.
Hillsdale frustrated the Blue Knights with their defense, forcing 22 turnovers, which the Chargers converted into 29 points. This season, they have averaged nearly 10 steals per game.
“We are trying to make defense our DNA for this program,” Badowski said. “We have done well turning teams over and locking down in big time situations.”
Lowry and Tharp both said that stout defensive play has been the key to success for the Chargers early in the season.
“We really need to be help-oriented. All five guys need to be in the gaps helping each other,” Tharp said. “We are denying certain parts of the floor. The thing we did best though was that each guy won his one on one matchup.”
The Chargers are also shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc, which Lowry said helps to open the floor and create opportunities.
“When guys like me or Ryan are hitting threes, defenders have to help less or they have to fly out to the perimeter and that allows us to drive,” Lowry said. “Then we can throw it to Czar who one on one can score pretty easily in the post. It gets our defense going too.”
With the season underway, the team is excited to play at home in front of Charger fans.
“I hope people come out and cheer. All I know is when our student body is there and they are loud, it sure helps us.,” Tharp said.
The Chargers play next on Thursday night at 6 p.m. against Ferris State University, an old GLIAC foe. Next week, the Chargers will host the Hillsdale Lanes Thanksgiving Classic and play against Lewis University on Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Purdue Northwest University on Nov. 22 at 4 p.m.